In 1992, hunters traveling through the backcountry near Denali National Park made a gruesome discovery: inside an abandoned schoolbus that had been left in the backcountry as an emergency shelter they found the emaciated corpse of a young man. Further investigation revealed that the body belonged to Christopher McCandless, a 22-year-old wanderer who had styled himself “Alexander Supertramp.” Lost in the wilderness, McCandless had apparently been unable fend for himself and died of starvation.
To Alaskans, the gruesome find was sad but not surprising: another greenhorn had come to the north country without the necessary respect for the dangers of the outdoors and had paid the ultimate price. But Outside magazine writer Jon Krakauer looked into the story and was able to piece together a nobler tale. Delving into McCandless’s history, he found a troubled soul caught up in the romance of the road, a young man too unseasoned to understand his own limitations. He turned his research into a book, Into the Wild. When Sean Penn made a movie of Krakauer’s book, the McCandless story became even more gauzy: here was a man, not fatally compromised by overconfidence, but tragically gifted with an uncompromising commitment to living life in the fullest.
Many Alaskans rankled at what they saw as Krakauer and Penn’s glorifying of recklessness. But what particularly disturbed them was that after the book came out, Into the Wild fans began trekking into the backcountry to find the bus where McCandless died. Their numbers greatly increased after the movie was released in 2007. Far from learning from McCandless’ mistakes, they were re-enacting them. Read the rest of this entry »